Sunday, June 5, 2011

Eugene Walter

Is there one single person who is no longer with us that you wish you had been able to meet?

I would have to choose Eugene Walter.  I'm reposting a piece I had originally posted here a little over a year ago.

What has prompted me to re-post it is an email I received this week from the executor of Mr. Walter's estate.

Mr. Goodman wanted to let me know that there's a real treat coming our way very soon.

The estate is issuing a cookbook of Mr. Walter's recipes along with some of his essays.  THE HAPPY TABLE OF EUGENE WALTER: SOUTHERN SPIRITS IN FOOD AND DRINK.  It'll be hitting the shelves in September, but is already available for pre-order.  I can hardly wait.

 I imagine it will be similar to THE PAT CONROY COOKBOOK; RECIPES AND STORIES OF MY LIFEMr. Conroy is, apparently, a Eugene Walter fan also.  I say this based on an essay included is his cookbook entitled "Eugene Walter of Mobile."

oh my - to sit down to a table with two of my heroes - Eugene Walter and Pat Conroy.  big sigh.  WHAT an evening that could have been!

I encourage you to read all you can by and about Eugene Walter - I promise it will enrich your life.

And - well, you all already know how I feel about Pat Conroy.  If you've somehow missed his cookbook, I urge you to seek it out.  You won't be disappointed.  Promise!

If you aren't familiar with Eugene Walter, but think you'd like to know more - I recommend starting with  "Moments With Eugene: A Collection of Memories" edited by Rebecca Barrett and Carolyn Haines (author of the mystery series featuring Sarah Booth Delaney) .  If you're not totally charmed, I'll be awfully surprised.

 I wish I had known Eugene Walter.


This was a man who apparently tried everything, and enjoyed life to its very fullest - which is ultimately what he became best known for.  

He was a poet and a novelist (winner of a Lippincott Award) - often illustrating his work with his own quirky drawings.  He was a founding contributor to The Paris Review (along with Isak Dinesen and Robert Penn Warren).  He was also an essayist, screenwriter, short-story author (winner of an O. Henry citation), librarian, book seller, actor (approximately 20 film credits; his friendship with director Federico Fellini led to him being cast in a bit part in his film ''8 1/2''), puppeteer (performing at children's parties, hospitals, prisons, and timber camps), gourmet chef, humorist, philosopher, cryptographer (in the Army during World War II), translator (translating scripts for directors Fellini, Wertmüller, and Zeffirelli), editor, costume designer, set designer, painter, and well-known raconteur. 

He published collections of short stories, poetry, and essays on a variety of subjects including food and gardening and wrote articles for Harper’s, Vogue, Gourmet, and Food and Wine.  A friend once observed that Walter had lived a "pixilated wonderland of a life."

Mr. Walter, known as "Mobile's Renaissance Man" died in 1998 at the age of 76 in his native city of Mobile, AL, which he often wrote about, and is said to have often described as  "a separate kingdom. We are not North America; we are North Haiti."  

“Down in Mobile, they’re all crazy, because the Gulf Coast is the kingdom of monkeys, the land of clowns, ghosts and musicians, and Mobile is sweet lunacy’s county seat.”
- Eugene Walter, The Untidy Pilgrim (1953)

 By special resolution of the city, he was buried in the historic Church Street Graveyard, where, apparently, one of the grandest parties of all time took place to send Eugene off on his final goodbye.  Since he was known for his parties, and for his love of parties, you have to think he would have thought this one was just tops.  Excerpted from Moments with Eugene - "And what of the Church Street Cemetery party, you ask?

A grand time was had by all. Music by Les Kerr filled the cemetery's grounds as Tallulah Bankhead and Federico Fellini look-alikes mingled leisurely beside Eugene’s grave. Chicken salad and Port wine (Eugene’s favorites) were clearly the food and drink of choice. At the end of the evening, a panel of judges (including Mobile Register food editor David Holloway) proclaimed Carolyn Haines’ chicken salad to be the evening’s tastiest (though a few whispering competitors begged to differ).

But above all, sentimentality, laughter, and shared recollections ruled the evening. Now and then, a weepy-eyed friend would kneel beside Eugene’s grave, mutter a few words, and pour a sip or two of port at the head of Eugene’s stone. A time or two, I thought I heard the words “more, please” come from below, but that may have been the Port affecting my own imagination (that has happened before). By the end of the evening, I'm confident that Eugene had as much fun as his guests.

Rest well, old friend. And congratulations on the new book. A lot of love is contained in those 310 pages. We’ll see you in the funny papers." 


Eugene Walters' Selected Works include "Monkey Poems," "The Untidy Pilgrim," "Love You Good, See You Later," "American Cooking: Southern Style," "The Likes of Which: Stories," "The Byzantine Riddle and Other Stories," "Hints and Pinches: A Concise Compendium of Herbs, Spices, and Aromatics with Illustrative Recipes, and Asides on Relishes, Chutneys, and Other Such Concerns," "Delectable Dishes From Termite Hall," "Lizard Fever: Poems Lyric, Satiric, Sardonic, Elegiac," "Jennie, the Watercress Girl," "The Pack Rat and Other Antics," "The Pokeweek Alphabet : Or a Child's Garden of Vices," and, with Katherine Clark "Milking the Moon: A Southerner's Story of Life on This Planet."

I've recently re-read "Milking the Moon: A Southerner's Story of Life on This Planet," an oral biography as told to Katherine Clark.   Then immediately rushed to find and re-read "Moments With Eugene: A Collection of Memories" edited by Rebecca Barrett and Carolyn Haines.  They're books I read as one, and read them fairly often.  They remind me that there is reason to celebrate life. 

The reasons for celebrations don't need to be big; they don't need to be milestone occasions.  The reasons can be totally internal, but they need to "be."  Eugene Walter reminds us that life is indeed too short to not be celebrated.

"Milking the Moon" reveiew from Publisher's Weekly: "I'm just a Southern boy let loose in the big world," declares Walter in his delightful oral autobiography, the culmination of months of talks with literature professor Clark (Motherwit: An Alabama Midwife's Story). Born in 1921 in Mobile, Ala., (which is, he notes, "a separate kingdom. We are not North America; we are North Haiti"), Walter spent most of his adulthood in New York, Paris and Rome, where he published a prize-winning novel (The Untidy Pilgrim, 1954), translated hundreds of screenplays, helped found the Paris Review, appeared in Fellini films and figured centrally in the social life of the literati, entertaining everyone from T.S. Eliot to Muriel Spark to Dylan Thomas at his lavish parties. Legendary both in his hometown and among the European jet set of the '50s and '60s, Walter displays an abiding fascination with people of all kinds. Astute and opinionated, he comments more on the personalities than the output of his literary associates. Unconcerned with material success or critical renown, Walter, who died in 1998, was in perennial pursuit of lively and provocative encounters with interesting people. In this respect, Clark observes, he's "so classically Southern as to be archetypal"; indeed, Walter, who traveled with a shoebox filled with Alabama red clay dirt, filters all his experiences through an explicitly Southern perspective that is alternately provincial and insightful. After her own encounters with him, Clark was convinced that his eccentric, ebullient voice was worth preserving, and indeed he comes through as one of the most fascinating literary figures most of us have never heard of. Forecast: Deliciously gossipy, this will make great late summer reading for the literate set and should sell briskly if it gets review attention."


To hear Eugene reading some of his poetry, click here.


And here are some links (from which I drew to help put this little piece together) for you to enjoy "All Things Eugene," a man who lived his life with "more delights than regrets."

Jonathan Yardley's piece from The Washington Post, August 19, 2001 - The Life of the Party

Moments with Eugene: A Collection of Memories -   "In Memoriam" Piece by Joseph Sackett  

Of Moonpies and Monkeys by Sharman Egan's "Of Moonpies and Monkeys"

Southern Living - June, 1998  -  "An Afternoon with Eugene Walter" by Denise Gee

Piece by Thomas Upchurch, Capitol Book and News Company - - includes two audio clips:  Eugene Walter's presentation "The Front Porch" and Eugene Walter's presentation "Cholesterol."

"Front Porches" by Eugene Walter 
Charles McNair's piece from Paste - "The Booky Man: Eugene Walter, A Man You Don't Meet Every Day."


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I wish I'd known him, too! Thanks for sharing this info on Eugene Walter...

Mystery Writing is Murder

Vicki Lane said...

Wow! Another one I'm going to have to get to know! Thanks, Kaye, for pulling together all this info>

PMoore said...

I had just Googled "Love You Good, See You Later", to locate a copy, when I found this blog about the fabulous Eugene Walter.

Thank you so much for the links to some material I didn't know about and to the sweet story, "Front Porches", which I've loved since discovering it two years ago.

Eugene Walter was the consummate Southern gentle man. He never let facts get in the way of a good story, until one found out those WERE the facts! He wasn't afraid to be himself-quirks aplenty with room to cultivate more-not caring what people thought or said because what was important to him was what HE believed. He loved his cats (bless his heart) and his friends, he celebrated life every day, and he was loved. He knew how to live and savor every moment knowing each step of the journey is what's truly important.

I haven't read all his books yet, but "Milking The Moon" was a great place to start and "Moments With Eugene" was a wonderful elegy. "Hint and Pinches", along with "Delectable Dishes" and "Southern Style" are great additions to any cook's library. His poetry is playful and provocative at times-written for the child within us all.

Yes, I wish I had known him, too, but, thankfully, he left us his many carefully chosen words to contemplate while celebrating his essence, his joy in living.

Charlotte B said...

I am in the middle of reading "The Untidy Pilgrim" for college and I have fallen in love with Eugene Walter's writing. The more I read about him, the more fascinating he becomes! . Thank you for helping me in my research. This is a lovely site.

Tom said...

I grew up in Mobile and had the wonderful experience of knowing Eugene during my childhood.

He was great friends with my Father, who at the time owned South of the Salt Line Regional Theater of Comedy, Satire, and Deeper Meaning.

Both being Mobile natives and involved in the arts, my father and Eugene naturally bonded. Eugene acted in several of my Father's plays, often stealing the show with a small part. However, I believe that he served more as a friend, sounding board, and still serves as an inspiration to this day even years after Eugene's death.

What I find the most interesting about Eugene though is how his popularity has steadily grown after his death.

When I knew Eugene, I was running around my Dad's theater selling t-shirts, occasionally acting, and doing the odd job. To me Eugene was my Dad's crazy friend who was the first person to make me a grilled cheese sandwich with tomatoes on it.
I have a lot of great stories of Eugene. However, I never really saw him with the near reverence that he's looked upon now years after his death.
I knew that he'd lived in Europe for a while and acted in some foreign moves but that was about it.
However, shortly after he passed, he began to develop a bit of a cult following that has grown beyond the cult.
Every so often, I find myself missing Eugene for one reason or another and will google his name to see what comes up. I'm always surprised, yet happily so, to see blogs such as yours and the other recognition Eugene and his work that continually sprouts up.
Cheers to you.

Warm regards,

Anonymous said...

I first learned of Eugene through his Time-Life series Southern cooking cookbook, quite a long time ago.

I was reading the book, and there was something -- special -- about the writing. Fortunately, the Time-Life publishers gave the author biographies. From there began a merry chase to all things Eugene.

I felt a kinship - an unworthy one, but it was there. As I read and contemplated, I had the sense that Eugene was sad and exquisitely lonely...that the only way to deal with life and living was to be so much grander than either.

I hope people finding Eugene recognize that his was a brilliant mind. Right now, I could well stand to tap into even an iota of his spirit and zest.

JB said...

November 30, 2011 is the 90th anniversary of Eugene's birth, and we're trying to organize a commemoration at The Monteagle Inn, in Monteagle, TN, operated by Tallulah Bankhead's great-great nephew, who met Eugene while visiting his aunt in New York, so save the date!

Scott Wilson said...

I am one of the "3 Scotts" that the new book is dedicated to.

Not a week goes by that I something happens that reminds me of him. He was a wonderful and strange little man. Full of life and, usually, not a care in the world.

Thanks for your blog about him!

I miss him dearly. Scott Wilson

Margaret said...

Eugene was my Uncle and was such a magical and lyric creature. I have soo loved seeing that he has touched soo many in his particular way, making us each feel as if we were royalty or off on some exotic and profound adventure. Thank you soo much for your posting. I am sure he would have adored you!

Yours, Margaret Walter-Wilson


Hi- I thought you might like to know that i've started a Facebook page for Eugene Walter. You may find it easily enough by searching for his name.

Thanks for a swell tribute. I too wish i'd known him.